Southeast Asia Thailand

Thai Youngsters Seek to Make SEA Proud in the Prem

As one of the biggest football leagues in the world, the English Premier League was a coveted destination for many players around the world. Players from 113 nationalities outside the United Kingdom have represented a Premier League team at least once in their careers, however, out of those 113 only one of them came from Southeast Asia – goalkeeper Neil Etheridge from the Philippines, who played for Cardiff City in the 2018-19 season. Now, two youngsters from Thailand are seeking to follow in Etheridge’s footsteps and make Southeast Asia proud by playing in the Premier League.

Born in the central province of Suphanburi but being raised in France, Thanawat Suengchitthawon is currently undergoing his second year in the Leicester City academy. Brought in from French side AS Nancy in 2020, Thanawat primarily operates as an attacking midfielder and soon enough he established himself as a key member of the Foxes’ U-23 side.

21-year old Thanawat has scored 6 goals for the Leicester U-23s in the 2020/21 season and he looked eager in all of the games that he participated in, trying his best to break down opposition’s defense while at the same time supplying his teammates with a number of decisive passes. His talents did not go unnoticed in his homeland and he represented the Thailand national team during the last three matches of the Changsuek‘s World Cup qualifying campaign last June.

As Brendan Rodgers’ team prepare themselves for the 2021/22 season, Thanawat was heavily involved in Leicester’s pre-season matches, missing a penalty in a friendly defeat against Burton Albion and being stretchered off with an injury in another friendly, this time against Wycombe Wanderers.

Considering Thanawat’s heavy involvement with the first team during pre-season, one can hope that Rodgers will hopefully involve him in the upcoming season proper. Should Thanawat makes his Leicester debut this season, he will become the first ever Thai player to represent the Foxes’ senior team – completing a full-circle considering Leicester are owned by Thai travel retail company King Power.

Thailand’s second Premier League hopeful has just received his first-ever professional contract in January of this year, with Jude Soonsup-Bell being promoted from Chelsea’s academy to the Blues’ U-23 team. Despite being born in England and having represented the country in youth level, Jude expressed his interest to represent Thailand, his mother’s birthplace.

Despite yet to make his senior or U-23 debut, 16-year old Jude has been impressive for Chelsea’s U-18 squad in 2020/21. He scored 4 goals in an 8-1 FA Youth Cup win over Barnsley, while also scoring 14 times in that season’s U-18 Premier League.

Considering Jude’s young age and Chelsea’s penchant of loaning out their youngsters to have them develop elsewhere, it is yet to be seen on whether Jude will stick to his word that he will represent the Thailand national team or whether Jude will turn out for the Chelsea senior team in any capacity.

But with Jude’s inclusion to the U-23s and his peripheral presence in the Chelsea squad during Frank Lampard’s last days as head coach, the young striker will be more than determined to bring his impressive performances from U-18 level to the next stage, with hopes that current Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel will take notice of him and include him in the senior squad within the near future.

Outside the Premier League, there are other players of Southeast Asian heritage hoping to make their nations proud in the English game.

The aforementioned Etheridge is currently plying his trade at Birmingham City in the Championship, while his former club Cardiff now has another player of Southeast Asian descent within their ranks – Perry Ng, who has a good shot in representing the Singapore national team in the future.

League One’s Ipswich Town has young defender Elkan Baggott, who is eligible for both Indonesia and Thailand, having spent some time in the former’s national team training camp. While another player of Indonesian descent, Jack Brown, is currently seeking a new club after graduating from the Lincoln City youth setup.